Socio-Religious Reform Movements and Reformers in India: A Complete Overview

The dawn of the 19th century witnessed the birth of new vision- a modern vision among some enlightened sections of the Indian society. This enlightened vision was to shape the course of events for decades to come and even beyond. Here, we are giving a complete overview on the Socio-Religious Reform Movements and Reformers in India that will enhance the knowledge of readers to understand, how Indian Society transformed after reform movements.
Socio religious reform movement
Socio religious reform movement

The process of reawakening, sometimes, but not always follow the intended as the ‘Renaissance’, did not always follow the intended line and gave rise to some undesirable by-products as well, which have become as much a part daily existence in the whole of the Indian subcontinent as have the fruits of these reform movements.

Although, the majority of reformation associated with religious beliefs and therefore most of the movement of the 19th century were socio-religious character. Here, we are giving a complete overview on the Socio-Religious Reform Movements and Reformers in India that will enhance the knowledge of readers to understand, how Indian Society transformed after reform movements.

1. Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833)

Raja Ram Mohan Roy


He was the founder of Atmiya Sabha in Calcutta in 1815 to propagate monotheism and reform in the Hindu society. In 1828, Atmiya Sabha was named Brahmo Samaj. It believed in one universal God and prayer, meditation, reading from Upanishads was used as a medium to worship God. There was no place for temple, rituals, sacrifices, priest, etc. in the Samaj. It believed in progressive social practices. He launched a movement for the abolition of sitting through his journal Sambad Koumudi (1819).

2. Debendranath Tagore

Debendranath Tagore


He founded Tattavabodhini Sabha (1839) and also published Tattvabodhini Patrika. Tattvabodhini Sabha amalgamated with the Brahmo Samaj in 1859. He also compiled selected passage from the Upanishads, which known as Brahma Dharma.

3. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar


He introduced the study of Western thought in the Sanskrit College and opened its gates to non-Brahmin students. His greatest contribution lay in the field of female emancipation. Widow re-marriage was the specific social issue he devoted his entire life to.

4. Dadoba Pandurang

Dadoba Pandurang


He founded Paramhansa Sabha in 1840, was the first reform organisation of the 19th century in Maharashtra. Its main objective was to demolish all caste distinctions.

5. Mahadev Gobind Ranade

 Mahadev Gobind Ranad


He founded Prarthana Samaj along with Dr. Atmaram Pandurang. Two other social reformers who work with Ranade were Vishnu Shastri and DK Karue. Karue launched the Widow Remarriage Movement. Prarthana Samaj did not reject the Vedas or Upanishads. However, it paid more emphasis on Bhakti (devotion).

6. K Sridharalu Naidu

He founded Veda Samaj in Madras, under the guidance of Keshab Chandra Sen in 1864. It changed into Brahmo Samaj of Southern India in 1871. It also abstains from patronising dancing girls, child marriage and polygamy.

7. Swami Dayanand Saraswati

 swami dayanandji


He started the Suddhi Movement to bring back the Hindu converted to other religions and played some role in the growth of communalism in the 20th century. It played a progressive role in the field of national awakening by attacking religious superstitions, polytheism and the supremacy of Brahmins.

He condemns idolatry, polytheism, Brahmin sponsored religious rites and superstitious practices. He advocated social equality improvement in the status of women and denounced untouchability, caste rigidities and encouraged rationality. He disregarded authority of later Hindu scriptures like Puranas.

He published his views in his famous work Satyartha Prakash (the true expositions in Hindi). He also wrote Veda-Bhasya Bhumika (partly in Hindi and partly in Sanskrit) and Veda-Bhashya (in Sanskrit). He accepted the doctrine of karma, but rejected the theory of Niyati (fatalism). He was the first man to advocate the concept of Swaraj.

8. Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekanand


He was a one of the greatest thinkers of India founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1896. The headquarter was established at Bellur near Calcutta to carry out humanitarian and social work to all without any distinction, especially to help poor and destitute. The basic motto of the mission was to provide social service people, spread the meaning of Vedantic spiritualism and strive for harmony among various faiths and cults.

9. HP Blavatsky

HP Blavatsky


She started Theosophical movement (Literally means all inclusive) in New York with Col HS Olcott (American) in 1875. They arrived in India in 1879 and established the headquarters of the society at Adyar near Madras in 1882. Theosophist popularised the study of oriental classics, especially Upanishads and Bhagwat Gita.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant


She joined the Theosophical Society in England in 1889 and came to India in 1893. She became President of the society after death of Olcolt in 1907. She translated the Bhagwad Gita in English. She laid the foundation of the Central Hindu College at Banaras in 1898 that later became nucleus for the formation of Banaras Hindu University in 1916.

10. Swami Sahajanad (1781-1830)

Swami Sahajanad


He founded Swami Narain Sect in Gujarat. The main focus of the sect was social unity and harmony. It encouraged widow remarriage and discouraged institution of Sati, female infanticide etc.

11. Behramii M Malabari

 Behramji M Malabari


He founded Seva Sadon in 1885. He opposed to child marriage and compulsory widowhood. This humanitarian organisation focused on the welfare of the socially deprived people especially women.

12. Radhakant Deb

 Radhakant Deb


He founded Dharma Sabha in 1830, in order to counter the ideas of Brahamo Samaj and advocated status quo and opposed abolition of Sati.

13. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831)

Vivian Derozio


He started Young Bengal Movement in Calcutta. The movement attacked old traditional and decadent customs. It advocated women's rights and educated the public on socio-economic and political issues.

14. Rahanumai Mazdayasanan Sabha

dadabhai naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji along with his Western educated, progressive Parsis like Sorabjee Bengali, JB Wacha, KR Cama, Naoroji Furdonji etc, founded Rahanumai Mazdayasanan Sabha or religious reform association in 1851 with the objective of social regeneration of Parsis, removal of the purdah system, raising the age of marriage, education of women.

Social Legislation under British Rule

15. Shah Walliullah

 Shah Walliullah


He started Wahabi Movement. It was a revivalist movement with slogan to return to pure Islam. Jihad was declared with the prime objective of converting Dar-UL-Harb (land of infidels) into Dar-UL-Islam (land of Islam).

16. Haji Shariat Ullah

Haji Shariatullah


He founded an orthodox Islamic Movement, i.e. Farazi Movement. He called for a return to Faraid (the obligatory duties of Islam) like names, Zakat, Haj, fasting in Ramzan etc. In 1804, Haji Shariat Ullah began to preach his doctrine by attacking the superstitions and corruptions of the Islamic society. Gradually, the movement gained political shape, when he declared the country under British occupation to be far-UL-job.'

17. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898)

sir syed ahmad khan


He started the Aligarh Movement to modernise Indian Muslims. He founded the Aligarh School in 1875, which was upgraded as Mohammodan-Anglo Oriental College, which became nucleus for the formation of Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. He stressed the need for Hindu-Muslim unity. Sir Syed Ahmad started a journal named tahzib-al-Akhlaq in 1870.

18. Mirza Ghulam Ahmed

 Mirza Ghulam Ahmed


He founded the Ahmadiya Movement in 1889 to liberalise the tenets of Islam in the context of modern enlightenment. He believed in rationalism and stood for Western system of education. He claimed himself as Messiah and the incarnation of Jesus and Krishna.

19. Mohammad Qasim Nanantavi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi

They started the Deoband Movement at Deoband, Saharanpur in 1866 with two main objectives- (i) popularizing the teaching of the Kuran and Hadith and (ii) To initiate Jihad against foreign rule. They did not support Western education and culture. They advocated the unity of all religions.

20. Balak Singh

Balak Singh


He started the Namdhari Movement in 1857 who advocated the forbidden of learning English and taking up a Government job.

21. Thakur Singh Sandhawalia and Giani Gian Singh

Thakar Singh Sandhawalia

They founded Singh Sabha in 1875 in Amritsar with two main objectives (a) to bring to Sikh community the benefits of Western enlightenment through Western education; (b) To counter Hindu and Christian Missionaries that were influencing the Sikh community.

22. Jyotirao Phule

 Jyotirao Phule


He established Satyashodhak Samaj on 24 September 1873 to liberate the Shundra and Untouchable castes from exploitation and oppression. He also challenges the superiority and domination complex of Brahmans.

23. EV Ramaswami Naicker

Ramaswami Naicker


He started the Self-respect Movement, which was popularly known as Periyar. He vehemently supported the Harijans and became a hero of Satyagraha at Vaikom, Kerala, started his paper, Kudi Arasu in 1925 and turned into a radical social reformer. Self respect league was merged with Justice Party in 1944 to from Dravida Kazhagam.

24. TK Madhavan, K Kellapan and Keshava Menon


Vaikom Satyagraha (Kerala, 1924-25) was led by TK Madhavan, K Kellapan and Keshava Menon. It was the first organised temple entry movement of the depressed classes. They asserted along Gandhian lines the right of Ezhavas and other untouchables to use the road near Travancore temple.

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